The Lake Village, Lake Forest and Greenfield Terrace developments date from World War II. (Some parts of Greenfield Terrace are even older.) They were, however, intended for civilians — defense workers, mainly at the the N.C. Shipbuilding Co. shipyard, located where the N.C. State Port facility now is.
During the Second World War, Wilmington suffered extreme crowding as workers flocked here to wartime jobs and as families followed servicemen to nearby Camp Davis (at present-day Holly Ridge) and Camp Lejeune. From a peacetime population of around 33,000 in early 1941, the city swelled to hold as many as 120,000 people at the war’s height — a total that all of New Hanover County would not exceed again until the mid-1990s.
To try to meet the demand for living space, the Wilmington Housing Authority and federal officials embarked on a local building boom. Founded in May 1938, the Wilmington authority was the first municpal public housing agency organized in North Carolina; before the war, it had already completed 216-unit Charles T. Nesbitt Courts development (reserved for whites in that segregated era) and the 241-unit New Brooklyn homes (for blacks), renamed the Robert R. Taylor homes in 1942. (Charles T. Nesbitt was a Wilmington doctor and a pioneering public health official in the early 1900s; Robert R. Taylor, a Wilmington native, was a prominent African-American architect.)
Built in 1942 with federal funds, and originally consisting of 475 units, Lake Forest was reserved for defense workers. It was unique as “demountable housing” — wooden structures that were intended to be easy to disassemble and rebuild elsewhere to meet shifting housing needs. Ironically, many of those temporary houses remained firmly in place more than 50 years later, noted historian Kristin Szylvian, formerly an associate professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and now at Western Michigan University.)
Lake Village consisted fo some 472 prefabricated units — each with 720 square feet of space — shipped to Wilmington by rail and assembled on 50 acres north and south of Greenfield Street.
More substantial were the Greenfield Terrace apartments, originally some 150 cinder-block duplexes along Greenfield Street.
To serve this growing community, Szylvian said, federal workers built a strip complex along the 1000 block of Greenfield Street. Completed in June 1942, it originally contained a grocery, drug store, barber shop and luncheonette. In business 24 before Hanover Center opened in 1956, Greenfield Plaza strip is technically Wilmington’s oldest shopping center.
In 1947, some 584 units of Lake Forest and Greenfield Terrace were sold to Veterans Homes Inc., a non-profit cooperative, as housing for returning veterans.
Lake Village remained in federal hands but was sold off to private interests in 1955. As late as 1974, units were renting for $54 per month. By then the properties were starting to deteriorate; private investors took over renovation with federal funding in 1978. Two years later, however, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was forced to foreclose. In 1983, a new set of private interests — Claude Whifield, Carroll Stephenson and W.E. Blackmon of Smithfield — bought the complex and completed the renovation. (Forty units were so decayed, they had to be demolished.) The development was rechristened Garden Lake Estates to reflect its refurbished image.
Date posted: February 19, 2010
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